Capital investment often foreshadows future growth and profits. This is especially true in the energy sector due to the capital-intensive nature of the business.
As a long term investor, when companies announce large amounts of investment spending it often grabs my attention. Here are two companies that piqued my interest with their plans for the future.
Noble Energy (NYSE:NBL) looks to be making modest increases in its capital spending projections for 2014, up $1 billion from 2013 to $4.8 billion. Look for 70% of this to be used for onshore development in the U.S.. Approximately two-thirds of the company's total 2014 to 2018 capital investments are planned for the continued acceleration of the DJ Basin and Marcellus Shale plays, highlighting the importance of this region.
Commenting on the continuing aspirations for rapid growth, Charles D. Davidson, Noble Energy's chairman and CEO, stated, "we are now positioned to deliver another five years of growth at an annual compounded rate of 18 percent. The result in 2018 is projected production of well over 600 thousand barrels of oil equivalent per day, more than triple what we averaged in 2011."
In percentage terms, a similar increase in capital spending for 2014 can be found in Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG). Not only do its projections call for approximately a 35% increase, up from 1.1 billion to 1.475 billion, but 98% of this activity will be in the Eagle Ford and Marcellus.
Dan O. Dinges, Chairman, President, and CEO offered this justification for 75% of the drilling and completion capital focused on the prolific Marcellus Shale: "Our Marcellus wells continue to provide peer-leading production rates...We continue to see improvements in our rate-of-return profile as a result of our increased well performance."
Past investment is paying off handsomely for Cabot with a 100% success rate for the 51 wells drilled in Q3. It's this kind of aggressive and successful drilling strategy that allowed Cabot to almost double its EPS to $0.17 in Q3 2013, up from $0.09 in Q3 2012.
Analysts think that 2014 could be just as successful with a consensus calling for $1.17/share. That would be approximately 86% above 2013 earnings of $0.63. But this kind of growth isn't exactly news to Wall Street, which has bid up shares of Cabot. With a P/E of 62.40, a P/B of 6.49 and a P/S of 9.28, the average investor may find it a bit expensive.
Energy giants like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) of course spend more money on a dollar basis. For Q3 2013 ExxonMobil's capital and exploration expenditures were $10.5 billion. However, this was up only 15% from the third quarter of 2012. In fact, ExxonMobil's 2013 total capital expenditure budget only totals 9% of its entire market cap. Compare this to Noble where capex spending represents 20% of the market cap, or Cabot with a 35% year-over-year increase in capex.
Even a Fool Knows
Growth investors in the energy sector know that future returns come from today's capital investments. Noble and Cabot represent an aggressive growth strategy in one of the most prolific regions in the U.S. Their focus on asset acquisition and development will pay off handsomely, but to fully reap the rewards (large percentage gains) one must take a bit of risk and invest in the early stages of this strategy.